Romanization of Korean

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The romanization of Korean is the use of the Latin script to transcribe the Korean language. Korea's alphabetic script, called Hangul, has historically been used in conjunction with Hanja (Chinese characters), though such practice has become infrequent.


Many romanization schemes are in common use:

  • Revised Romanization of Korean (RR, also called South Korean or Ministry of Culture (MC) 2000): This is the most commonly used and widely accepted system of romanization for Korean. It includes rules both for transcription and for transliteration. South Korea now officially uses this system which was approved in 2000. Road signs and textbooks were required to follow these rules as soon as possible, at a cost estimated by the government to be at least US$500–600 million.[1] Almost all road signs, names of railway and subway stations on line maps and signs etc. have been changed. Romanization of surnames and existing companies' names (e.g. Hyundai) has been left untouched; the government recommends using the new system for given names and new companies.
    RR is similar to MR, but uses neither diacritics nor apostrophes, which has helped it to gain widespread acceptance on the Internet. In cases of ambiguity, a syllable boundary may be indicated with a hyphen, but this is truly optional; it is not mandatory.[2] Thus, state institutions usually do not make use of this option.
  • McCune–Reischauer (MR; 1939): the first transcription to gain some acceptance. A slightly modified version of MR was the official system for Korean in South Korea from 1984 to 2000, and yet a different modification is still the official system in North Korea. MR uses breves, apostrophes and diereses, the latter two indicating syllable boundaries in cases that would otherwise be ambiguous.
    Several variants of MR, often also called "McCune's and Reischauer's", differ from the original mostly in whether word endings are separated from the stem by a space, by a hyphen or not at all; and if a hyphen or space is used, whether sound change is reflected in a stem's last and an ending's first consonant letter (e.g. pur-i vs. pul-i). Although mostly irrelevant when transcribing uninflected words, these variants are so widespread that any mention of "McCune–Reischauer romanization" may not necessarily refer to the original system as published in the 1930s. MR-based romanizations have been common in popular literature until 2000.
  • The ALA-LC / U.S. Library of Congress system is based on but deviates from MR. Unlike in MR, it addresses word division in seven pages of detail. Syllables of given names are always separated with a hyphen, which is expressly never done by MR. Sound changes are ignored more often than in MR. ALA-LC also distinguishes between and .[3]
  • Yale (1942): This system has become the established standard romanization for Korean among linguists. Vowel length in old or dialectal pronunciation is indicated by a macron. In cases that would otherwise be ambiguous, orthographic syllable boundaries are indicated with a period. This system also indicates consonants that have disappeared from a word's South Korean orthography and standard pronunciation.
  • ISO/TR 11941 (1996): This actually is two different standards under one name: one for North Korea (DPRK) and the other for South Korea (ROK). The initial submission to the ISO was based heavily on Yale and was a joint effort between both states, but they could not agree on the final draft. A superficial comparison between the two is available here: [1]
  • Lukoff romanization, developed 1945–47 for Fred Lukoff's Spoken Korean coursebooks[4]
  • Romanization of Korean (1992): The official romanization in North Korea. This is also based on but deviates from MR.

McCune–Reischauer-based transcriptions and the Revised Romanization differ from each other mainly in the choice of how to represent certain hangul letters. Both attempt to match a word's spelling to how it would be written if it were an English word, so that an English speaker would come as close as possible to its Korean pronunciation by pronouncing it naturally. Hence, the same hangul letter may be represented by different Roman letters, depending on its pronunciation in context. The Yale system, on the other hand, represents each Korean letter by always the same Roman letter(s) context-independently, thus not indicating the hangul letters' context-specific pronunciation.

Even in texts that claim to follow one of the above, aberrations are a common occurrence and a major obstacle, e.g. when conducting an automated search on the Internet, as the searcher must check all possible spelling variants, a considerable list even without such aberrations.

SKATS is a transliteration system that does not attempt to use letters of a similar function in Western languages. A similar approach is to transliterate by hitting the keys that would produce a Korean word on a keyboard with Dubeolsik layout (e.g. 위키백과 → dnlzlqorrhk). This can often be seen on the internet, for example in usernames.

In addition to the systems above, many people spell names or other words in an ad hoc manner, producing more variations (e.g. 이/리 (李), which is variously romanized as Lee, Yi, I, or Rhee). Even a single surname within a single family can be romanized differently on South Korean passports. For example, within a single family, a father's surname can be "Shim" while his son's can be "Sim".[5]

Eom Ik-sang [ko], a South Korean professor of the Chinese language and literature at Hanyang University, said the following with regard to the romanizations of Korean personal names and the adoption of South Korea's official romanization system in other countries:[6][a]

In the case of the romanization of Chinese, the Hanyu Pinyin system established by the Chinese government in 1958 is being used worldwide today, displacing the Wade–Giles system that had been used in the West for nearly a hundred years. It is now possible to search Chinese personal names and book titles using Hanyu Pinyin in overseas libraries including the U.S. Library of Congress. However, is it fair to compare the country in which more than 1.3 billion people have been uniformly following [a single system] for more than 50 years to the country in which almost all citizens and presidents alike have been romanizing their names freely, asserting individual freedom? Korea is a place where one's home address as well as the surname of each family member [within a single family] can be romanized differently. Why would other countries trust and use [South Korea's official romanization] system that not only has been frequently changed but also we ourselves do not even consistently follow?

Comparison of various systems[edit]

Comparison of romanization of consonants[7][8]
Hangul IPA Yale MR DPRK RR Dubeolsik
/m/ m m m m a
/p/ p p/b p b/p[b] q
/p͈/ pp pp pp pp Q
/pʰ/ ph p' ph p v
/n/ n n n n s
/t/ t t/d t d/t[b] e
/t͈/ tt tt tt tt E
/tʰ/ th t' th t x
/l/ [l] ~ [ɾ] l r/l r r/l[b] f
/s/ s s s s t
/s͈/ ss ss ss ss T
/t͡ɕ/ ~ /t͡s/ c ch/j ts j w
/t͈͡ɕ/ ~ /t͈͡s/ cc tch tss jj W
/t͡ɕʰ/ ~ /t͡sʰ/ ch ch' tsh ch c
/k/ k k/g k g/k[b] r
/k͈/ kk kk kk kk R
/kʰ/ kh k' kh k z
/h/ h h h h g
silent / /ŋ/[c] -/ng[c] -/ng[c] -/ng[c] -/ng[c] d
Comparison of romanization of vowels[7][8]
Hangul IPA Yale MR DPRK RR Dubeolsik
/a/ a a a a k
/ʌ/ e ŏ ŏ eo j
/o/ (w)o o o o h
/u/ wu u u u n
/ɯ/ [ɯ] ~ [ɨ] u ŭ ŭ eu m
/i/ i i i i l
/ɛ/ ay ae ae ae o
/e/ ey e e e p
/ø/ [ø] ~ [we] (w)oy oe oe oe hl
/y/ [y] ~ [ɥi] wi wi we wi nl
/ɰi/ [ɰi] ~ [ɨ̯i] ~ [i] uy ŭi ŭi ui ml
/ja/ ya ya ya ya i
/jʌ/ ye yeo u
/jo/ yo yo yo yo y
/ju/ yu yu yu yu b
/jɛ/ yay yae yae yae O
/je/ yey ye ye ye P
/wa/ wa wa wa wa hk
/wʌ/ we wo nj
/wɛ/ way wae wae wae ho
/we/ wey we we we np


English Hangul IPA RR
(RR transliteration in brackets)
McC-Rsr Yale SKATS Dubeolsik
wall [pjʌk̚] byeok
pyŏk pyek wsl qur
on the wall 벽에 [pjʌ.ɡe̞] byeoge
pyŏge pyek ey wsl ktu qurdp
[pak̚] bak
pak pakk well qkR
outside 밖에 [pa.k͈e̞] bakke
pakke pakk ey well ktu qkRdp
kitchen 부엌 [pu.ʌk̚] bueok
puŏk puekh wh ktx qndjz
to/in the kitchen 부엌에 [pu.ʌ.kʰe̞] bueoke
puŏk'e puekh ey wh ktx ktu qndjzdp
Wikipedia 위키백과 [yk.ç̞k̚.k͈wa̠] wikibaekgwa
wikibaekkwa wikhi payk.kwa khu xu weul lae dnlzlqorrhk
Hangul 한글 [han.ɡɯl] hangeul or han-geul
han'gŭl hānkul jef ldv gksrmf
character, letter 글자 [kɯl.t͈ɕa] geulja
kŭlcha kulqca ldv pe rmfwk
(an) easy (+ noun) 쉬운 [ɕɥi.un] swiun
shwiun swīwun ghu khf tnldns
Korea has four distinct seasons. 한국은 네 계절이 뚜렷하다. [han.ɡu.ɡɯn ne̞ kje̞.dʑʌ.ɾi t͈u.ɾjʌ.tʰa.da] Hangugeun ne gyejeori tturyeotada.
(Hangug-eun ne gyejeol-i ttulyeoshada.)
Hangugŭn ne kyejŏri tturyŏthada. Hānkuk un nēy kyēycel i ttwulyes hata. jef lhl kdf ftu lsu ptv ku bbh vsg je be gksrnrdms sp rPwjfdl Enfutgkek.
Just check the line color and width you want. 원하시는 선 색깔과 굵기에 체크하시면 됩니다. [wʌn.ɦa.ɕi.nɯn sʌn sɛ̝k̚.k͈al.ɡwa kul.k͈i.e̞ tɕʰe̞.k͡xɯ.ɦa.ɕi.mjʌn twe̞m.ɲi.da] Wonhasineun seon saekkkalgwa gulkkie chekeuhasimyeon doemnida.
(Wonhasineun seon saegkkalgwa gulggie chekeuhasimyeon doebnida.)
Wŏnhasinŭn sŏn saekkalgwa kulkie ch'ek'ŭhasimyŏn toemnida. Wēn hasinun sen sayk.kkal kwa ey cheykhu hasimyen toypnita. khtf je gu fdf gtf geul llev lae lhvl lu ktu ctu xd je gu msf bauw fu be dnjsgktlsms tjs torRkfrhk rnfrrldp cpzmgktlaus ehlqslek.

As a new writing system for Korean[edit]

In the 1920s–1930s various languages of the Soviet Union were switched to the Latin alphabet and it was planned that the language of Koreans of the Far East would be one of them.[9][10] Hanja was deemed too hard to learn, while Hangul was claimed to be inconvenient for typesetting and handwriting. Since removing of Hanja would result in much ambiguity, it was proposed that Chinese words would be replaced by words of Korean origin (compare linguistic purism in Korean). The new alphabet, made by famous Koreanist Aleksandr Kholodovich [ru], who would later make a system of transcribing Korean words into Russian [ru], looked like this:

a ʙ d e æ g h i y k kh l r m n ng o ө ə p ph s t th u z

Lowercase ʙ was commonly used in Soviet Roman-derived alphabets due to some alphabets having a letter similar to b with a different purpose. The usage of only lowercase letters was also not unusual, as it was the Latin alphabet of Adyghe language, for example.

Some words written in the Soviet Latin alphabet: gu lli, nongdhion haggio, nong ʙ, zængsan, gugga diaʙondiyi.

The alphabet saw criticism from Koreans and was never put into use.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Original: "중국어 로마자 표기법은 서구에서 100년 가까이 사용해오던 Wade-Giles법을 밀어내고 최근에는 1958년 중국정부가 제정한 한어병음방법을 전 세계적으로 사용하고 있다. 미국의회도서관은 물론 해외 도서관에서 한어병음으로 중국의 인명과 서명을 검색할 수 있게 되었다. 그러나 13억이 넘는 인구가 50년이 넘는 세월 동안 일률적으로 사용해온 경우와 성명의 표기는 개인의 자유라며 일반 국민은 물론 대통령까지 거의 모두 자유롭게 표기해온 국가와 비교가 될 수 있을까? 자기 집 영문 주소는 물론 성까지도 식구마다 다르게 표기할 수 있는 곳이 한국이다. 우리 스스로도 잘 지키지 않고, 수시로 바뀌는 표기법을 외국에서 뭘 믿고 쓰겠는가?"
  2. ^ a b c d The first alternative is used before a vowel; the second is used elsewhere.
  3. ^ a b c d e Nothing in syllable-initial position, ng syllable-finally.


  1. ^ "2005년까지 연차적으로 도로표지판을 바꾸는 데 5000억~6000억원이 들고". Monthly Chosun ilbo. 2000-09-01. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  2. ^ 김세중 (May 2001). "로마자 표기법의 이해 – 로마자 표기와 붙임표(-)" [Understanding the romanization system – Romanization and hyphen] (in Korean). New Korean News (새국어소식). 붙임표를 생략하면 한 로마자 표기가 두 가지로 발음될 수 있는데도 붙임표 사용을 강제하지 않은 데는 그만한 이유가 있다. 우선 붙임표는 대단히 눈에 거슬리는 기호라는 점이다. '강원'을 Gang-won으로 하기보다는 Gangwon으로 하는 것이 시각적으로 더 편안하다. 그러나 더 중요한 것은 표기와 발음은 완벽하게 일치하지 않는다는 사실이다. 어떤 언어든지 표기가 발음을 정확하게 반영하지는 않는다. 국어의 '말〔馬〕'은 모음이 짧고 '말〔言〕'은 모음이 길지만 똑같이 '말'로 적는다. 영어에서 lead(이끌다)는 발음이 [li:d]이고 lead(납)은 [led]이지만 표기는 같다. 로마자 표기라고 예외는 아니다. 로마자 표기로 발음을 완벽하게 보여 주어야 한다는 생각은 버려야 한다. Gangwon을 '간권'으로 발음하는 사람이 있다면 '강원'으로 바로잡아 주면 된다. 표기가 발음을 완벽하게 다 보여 주는 것은 아니며 발음은 어차피 따로 익혀야 할 부분이 있다. '아에'를 a-e로 쓰는 것을 허용하지만 ae로 쓰기를 더 권장한 까닭이 여기에 있다.
  3. ^ "ALA-LC Romanization Tables" (PDF). Library of Congress.
  4. ^ "Korean Romanization Reference".
  5. ^ 김용 (2023-07-12). "아버지 성은 'SHIM', 아들은 'SIM'...'헤라클래스' 부자에 무슨 사연이?" [Father's surname is Shim, son's is Sim... What is the story behind the "Hercules" father and son?] (in Korean). Sports Chosun. 심정수는 이주 과정에서 여권 신청서를 작성할 때 실수로 아들들의 성을 'SIM'으로 적었다고 한다. 뒤늦게 실수를 알았지만, 다시 이름을 바꾸기는 어려웠다. [When Shim Jeong-soo was applying for his sons' passports to emigrate [to the U.S.], he wrote their surname as "SIM". He later realized the mistake, but it was too late to change.]
  6. ^ Eom, Ik-sang (엄익상) (2011-07-07). "로마자표기법: 국내표준과 국제표준" [Romanization system [of Korean]: domestic and international standards] (PDF). 제2회 국어 정책 토론회 자료집. 국어 정책 토론회 (in Korean). National Institute of Korean Language. p. 8. Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  7. ^ a b Noma, Hideki (2005). "Korean". In Strazny, Philipp (ed.). Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Vol. 1. Taylor & Francis. pp. 579–584. ISBN 978-1-57958-450-4.
  8. ^ a b "Updates to the Report on the Current Status of UN Romanization Systems for Geographic Names" (PDF). United Nations. 2004. pp. 20–22. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  9. ^ Советское языкознание, т.1. Л., 1935
  10. ^ "Ким Герман.Рассказы о родном языке.Рассказ 4.Неудавшаяся революция в корейской письменности".

External links[edit]